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DUDES change the world one birdhouse at a time
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Ripon Rotary President Louise Johnson, right, welcomed Oakhurst Rotarian Tony McClean who has mentored young boys, known as the DUDES, into making bird houses, bird feeders and tool boxes with the profits going toward helping less fortunate societies in the world. At left is Peter McClean and Cristian Mendoza, center. The elder McClean is holding a bat box used to attract swarms of small bats after the application of bat oil. - photo by GLENN KAHL


Two young boys – one 13 and the other 14 – definitely won’t be bored with their summer vacations.

Peter McClean and Cristian Mendoza served as the program at Ripon Rotary Club this past Wednesday, introducing themselves as the DUDES.  It’s an innovative acronym that means “Dollars for Under Developed Economic Societies.”

These “Dudes” have busied themselves with building pine wood bird houses, bird feeders, bat boxes and tool boxes they offer for sale at flea markets, service club programs and Christmas boutiques as well as the twice annual Coarse Gold Peddlers Fair.

Their venture began three years ago when four grade school boys were sitting in the shade of a tree at school eating lunch.  They came up with the idea of building and selling birdhouses as a way to help save the earth. They talked about eventually using the profits to help others around the world duplicate their efforts with loans they could use to get started, paying them back monthly.

It was at that point they were invited to attend a Rotary Club meeting where they were introduced to “Kiva,” an international micro-credit organization that served as the club program that day.  The Rotary-Kiva presentation sparked the boys into developing their birdhouse business on a serious note.

There were five boys to start with only the plans in their heads and no birdhouses yet built.  Nevertheless they presold 15 of their birdhouses before they walked out the door of that dinner meeting.

Oakhurst Rotarian and physical therapist brought the boys to Ripon this week after local Rotarians had heard them speak at the group’s district conference in April that was held in Modesto.

“I wanted to challenge these boys and show them how small changes at home can have significant and long lasting results around the world,” McClean told the Ripon club members. “Proven methods of previous generations such as lemonade stands and newspaper routes are no longer options in our mountain community.

To date the DUDES have raised thousands of dollars that they have provided to others in need through the micro-finance business that offers startup funds to entrepreneurs in Third World countries in need of supplies and tools.  The loans are paid back monthly, the boys said.  As of April they had made 270 loans, of which 178 have been paid back and 92 are in the process of being paid off.  Six loans ended in a total loss of only $11 over recent years.

Ten different countries were targeted for their entrepreneur funding from Peru to Bolivia and Nicaragua as well as the Philippines and Cambodia.

It was with the support of parents and Rotarians that the elementary school boys were introduced to members of that first audience who were willing to support them by mentoring in woodworking and others who helped them launch their small business.

Woodworkers, cabinet makers, timber managers, public speaking veterans all pitched in teaching the youths the skills they needed to be successful in their endeavor.  Still others mentored them in promoting their project by finding donations of raw materials.  Soon they expanded their product line from the initial birdhouses to included tool boxes, bat houses and other items.  They quipped in explaining their operation saying that it takes only 10 minutes for them to make a birdhouse that sells for $15.  The bat boxes and bird feeders go for $25.

The monies they realized through their efforts in marketing their wares are sent to their account at Kiva.  The DUDES make investment decisions and closely monitor the results, making loans to the Kiva entrepreneurs in far-away lands giving others a chance to enter the business world.

Kiva is described as a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.  It works under the premise that providing safe, affordable access to capital to those in need, helps people create better lives for themselves and for their families.

Kiva allows individuals and groups, such as the DUDES, to lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.  One hundred percent of every dollar loaned through Kiva goes directly towards the funding of the microfinance loans.

Kiva relies on a world-wide network of over 450 volunteers who work with “Field Partners” to edit and translate the stories and needs of the borrowers and to ensure the smooth operation of other Kiva programs, not taking a cut from the funds in the process.

It was impressive to watch the boys at the podium at the Barnwood Restaurant in an early, but critical juncture in their lives.  The DUDE project obviously inspires the boys and girls in the positive experience of altruism and, without a doubt, helping relieve poverty in underdeveloped cultures.

The group of five has reverted down into only a partnership of two.  Asked if they are looking for recruits, Peter said they weren’t at this time.  He assured everyone at the Wednesday noon meeting that they are doing just fine as a small team and being very successful.

It’s apparent, too, that they are learning real world geography and witnessing the frustrating needs of others.  In being lenders to strangers in other countries, they have also experienced a mature side of finance and have been developing entrepreneurial craft skills.

Their mentors have brought the students into real apprentice-like situations.  As our contemporary society has evolved, it has become more difficult for youth to learn business and hands-on skills from their elders.  Ultimately the DUDE’S Kiva loans have brought vital monitored assistance to small businesses in the third world countries, aiding those in need to become more financially secure.

“We don’t throw any of our wood away,” Cristian said. “It all gets used which equates to greater profits.”

As for their futures, Peter wants to become an engineer and Cristian is looking for a vocation in building computers. 

For more information Tony McClean can be reached at (559) 683-0974 or on line at